Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"It Is Extremely Hard for Anyone at the Present Day to Make Detective Stories Original"

By Robert Barr (1849-1912).
D. Appleton and Co.
1906. 330 pages.
Collection: 8 (+ 2) stories.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
1. "The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds"
2. "The Siamese Twin of a Bomb-Thrower"
3. "The Clue of the Silver Spoons"
4. "Lord Chizelrigg's Missing Fortune" [also online HERE]
5. "The Absent-Minded Coterie"
6. "The Ghost with the Club-Foot"
7. "The Liberation of Wyoming Ed"
8. "Lady Alicia's Emeralds"
APPENDIX: Two Sherlock Holmes Parodies
1. "The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs"
2. "The Adventure of the Second Swag"

First, contemporary assessments:
[Excerpt] Detectives themselves now write their reminiscences. To whom they appeal, we do not know, but we have certainly seen them published with great flourish of trumpets, in country newspapers. Fiction is not to be outdone. Mr. Robert Barr has written the reminiscences of Eugène Valmont, imaginary chief detective to the government of France; and they seem to be distinctly better than the real thing of the aforesaid country newspapers. As for reality ... — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [UK] (May 1906)
[Full review] Mr. Robert Barr is extremely fond of the detective story, and contrives to impart a slight element of novelty to the present series of adventures by making his amateur detective a retired professional from the Paris Police Force.
To say that the stories are written by Mr. Robert Barr is to say that they are ingenious; but it is extremely hard for any one at the present day to make detective stories original. The plots have all been used up long since, and the best efforts of modern authors can now only accomplish variations of some four or five essential themes.
There is indeed hardly one of these stories of which the reader does not forecast the end as quickly as M. Eugene Valmont himself. It is curious that, in spite of this fact, detective stories continue to be produced, for we may be sure that the supply would soon fall off if publishers did not find that this class of goods was largely asked for. — THE SPECTATOR (July 7, 1906)
Assessments from a century later:
Eugène Valmont, a conceited, pompous, vain French detective, acts as comic mouthpiece in these satirical tales, which poke fun at both detective stories and English society. You need a little background in the popular fiction of the time to get some of the humor. Barr often is spoofing some of the more sensational fiction of the Victorian age here, but he has also created a memorable character, hailed by some critics as "the first, most important humorous detective in English literature." This collection of stories is something of a romp, though I found there was a sort of stylistic repetitiveness in Valmont's wordy first-person accounts that precluded rating the stories more highly. — Kay, GOODREADS
This is a book I pull off my shelf perhaps once every ten years. The stories are of their time stylistically so there is an emphasis on the mechanics of the mysteries rather than the psychology of the characters. But they are very well written with a light touch. I would add that if Barr had written after Agatha Christie the stories would have been viewed as parodies of Hercule Poirot. However, I think it is clear Valmont was at least in part a source of inspiration for Christie of Poirot. This makes these stories important to be read for any serious fans of Christie. — Henry Patterson, GOODREADS
Charles Gray as Valmont in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes TV series (1973)
- Mike Grost clears up the mystery as to just how many stories were included in this volume: "Barr's The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (collected in book form 1906) is a series of eight short stories, but the individual tales were broken up into chapters on book publication, to make the book look like a novel."

Category: Detective fiction

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